HICKMAN, Ky. – As Memphis readied for the mighty Mississippi to bring its furor to town, some Kentucky residents upstream returned to their homes Saturday, optimistic the levees would hold and that they had seen the worst of the flooding.

In the small town of Hickman, Ky., officials and volunteers spent nearly two weeks piling sandbags on top of each other to shore up the 17-mile levee, preparing for a disaster of historic proportion.

About 75 residents were told to flee town and waited anxiously for days to see just how bad the flooding would be.

By Saturday, the levee had held, and officials boasted that only a few houses appeared to be damaged. More importantly, no one was injured or killed.

“We have held back the Mississippi River and that’s a feat,” Fulton County’s emergency management director Hugh Caldwell said. “We didn’t beat it, but it didn’t beat us. We’ll call it a draw.”

Downstream, though, there was danger, in places like Memphis, the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana. In Arkansas, authorities recovered the body of a man who drove around barricades earlier in the week and was swept away by floodwaters when he tried to walk out.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton warned residents in low-lying areas to evacuate, and nearby, Shelby Mayor Mark Luttrell said the community was “facing what could be a large-scale disaster.”

William Owen, 53, didn’t heed the call until firefighters began to bang on his door Saturday morning at a Memphis mobile home park. Owen said when he went to sleep, the water wasn’t that high. By midday, it had risen about a foot, and was around the base of his home.

He grabbed his medication and took a city bus, along with his girlfriend and dog, to a shelter. He was told he may have to stay for two weeks.

“It seems like we’ve had a stroke of bad luck,” Owen said. “I’m hoping things will get better, I just don’t know what else to do right now.”

Record river levels, some dating as far back as the 1920s, were expected to be broken in some parts along the river.

In Memphis, the river was expected to crest at 48 feet by Tuesday, just shy of the 48.7-foot record from the devastating flood of 1937.

Some Memphis residents saw rain Saturday, and though forecasters said the small amount moisture wouldn’t affect flooding, it was enough to get some people packing, calling the city bus for transportation out.

“Reality has set in, so now we’re getting more calls,” said Alvin Pearson, assistant manager of operations for Memphis bus service.

There was good news, though: the forecast was dry until Thursday.

About 100 miles to the north, residents in Tiptonville, Tenn., were hopeful as the river levels started to fall.

Janice Spence, 60, was working the cash register at the Health Mart pharmacy downtown, just a couple blocks from her home. She was satisfied with the preparations officials have made, but still has her grandson’s boat parked beside her house and has packed clothes and toiletries in case she needs to leave.

“I believe them when they say everything’s going to be OK,” she said. “I think they’ve done everything that’s humanly possible to keep it from coming into town.”

But the town wasn’t completely spared. About one-fifth of it has suffered some flooding. All told, 75 homes have been swamped.